There are all types of different albums an artist or band might make in their career. The happy ones, the sad ones, the ones where one member gets really into aliens for some reason, but every so often they just needs to lay it all out. I think of these moments as the “I just had to make” albums.
It’s those types of releases that are often a raw look at an artist’s life in turmoil or an attempt to express something within them that might not easily be conveyed. In the last few years we’ve been treated to several of these albums from bands like Touché Amoré and The Hotelier.
Both these albums, and others like them, are painful examination of the artist who is completely open to their audience. These records also signaled an attempt to move on, to understand something greater and learn.
Surfer Blood understands these type of albums better than anyone. Since the 2012 arrest of bandleader John Paul Pitts for domestic battery the band has had to try and escape the shadow of that event through their recent releases. Their first attempts, 2013’s Pythons and 2015’s 1000 Palms, were a mess of emotion that at worst passed blame on everyone but Pitts for the incident.
Now in 2017 we’re on attempt number three, Snowdonia, and this time Pitt’s is dealing with much more in his life. The death of one of the bands founding members, Thomas Fekete, along with the cancer diagnose of Pitt’s mother weigh heavy over this release. But where those past two albums failed to address issues in a mature way, Snowdonia marks the first real sign of maturity and progress for the band.
It helps that they’ve gone back to basics for this release, returning to the washed out catchy tunes that defined their debut back in 2010. Songs like ‘Matter of Time’ and ‘Frozen in the Armory’ are sweet little love songs that will have you smiling when they hit their chorus, while lead single, ‘Six Flags in F or G’, is a charming pop rock track that sounds prime for the coming summer.
Lyrically though this song (and other’s on the album) is more thoughtful than the music might have you think. While the summery sound lures you in the icy lyrics hit with a force. Pitt sings of a romance blooming and a day in which “we will never ever be apart” but doesn’t shy away from a darkness hiding in his past as lines about “a man without a face” creep into the story.
Balancing those two emotions, potential love and past regret, is something of a tricky task but Pitt manages to do so in way that doesn’t let him off the hook for this past, but provides a positive for the future.
It isn’t all about love though; ‘Taking Care of Eddy’ details Pitt having to care for this girlfriends disabled uncle, and ‘Carrier Pigion’, which is the most direct song about Pitt’s mother, features heartfelt tributes to people who clearly had an impact on his life.
It’s a shame then that musically the band doesn’t push themselves as hard as they do on the lyrical front. Sure, each song on Snowdonia is light and fun but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before and in the case of songs like ‘Dino Jay’ it’s so similar to their past work it reads as lazy.
The band attempts to push their sound in some ways like on the eight-minute title track but that song only highlights how little they’ve changed. If they were to mature the sound along with the lyrics it would make for a much more compelling album, but as it stands it’s just another basic pop rock release.
All and all though, Snowdonia is a positive step forward for the band. They’ve gone back to basics but are maturing little by little, too. It may not be the answer to all the problems plaguing the band both musically and personally but a step is a step after all.
Snowdonia is out now on Joyful Noise.